Contraception and Kidnapping

Rabbi Alexander Davis

Rabbi Alexander Davis
July 3, 2014 / 5 Tamuz 5774


Here in the US, much attention this week has focused on Supreme Court decisions. I have closely followed the decision regarding the right of employers to deny insurance coverage for contraception based on their religious beliefs. Meanwhile, of course, for Jews around the world, the news from Israel has been tragic as we mourn the deaths of Naftali, Gilad and Eyal.

In a strange way, I see these two stories as linked.

On my last day in Israel, I went to the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem to see a special exhibition called, “The Book of Books.” It was an exhibit on the Bible (Jewish and Christian) which opened in Jerusalem and was heading next to the Vatican. The exhibit was a fascinating tour of Bibles from the Dead Sea Scrolls through the Gutenberg Bible that included illuminated manuscripts, ancient translations of the Bible, commentaries on the Bible, and much more. These treasures were from the collection of the Green family, a religious Christian family that coincidently owns Hobby Lobby- the employer that brought the Supreme Court contraception issue.

The Bibles were interesting and many were beautiful. But one thing caught my attention. Of the Torah scrolls on display, all were set to the same passage- the Ten Commandments. The passage is easy to identify by its unique lay out- the “Thou shalt not” phrases line up.

As I toured the exhibit, I remembered a teaching. “Do not murder. Do not commit adultery,” is followed by “Do not steal.” Most people think this phase means that it’s wrong to steal money or property. But that is not how the Talmud reads it. A different verse in the Torah (Leviticus 19:11) teaches that prohibition. Here, “do not steal means” actually means do not kidnap. And our sages learn from this that like murder and adultery, kidnapping is a capital offense.

Whatever you think about the Supreme Court decision, for religious Christians, the issue of contraception is an issue of reverence for life. Likewise, our Torah is called “Torat Hayim” for it is more than an object in a museum case or a synagogue ark. It is a “Torah of life” that teaches us to sanctify life.

While I know there are religious Muslims who share a reverence for life, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks draws a sharp distinction to the kidnapper/murders that Israel is facing:

Judaism is supremely a religion of life. Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were killed by people who believed in death…Never was there a more pointed contrast than, on the one hand, these young men who dedicated their lives to study and to peace, and on the other the revelation that other young men have become radicalized into violence in the name of God and are now committing murder in His name. That is the difference between a culture of life and one of death, and this has become the battle of our time, not only in Israel but in Syria, in Iraq, in Nigeria and elsewhere. Whole societies are being torn to shreds by people practicing violence in the name of God.

I don’t know how Israel will respond. I have many contradictory thoughts about what might be effective and what would be just. But I do know how we must respond. We must cherish life by embracing the Torah of life.

There were three teenage boys who were learning Torah, who were davening with tefillin (the tefillin were a clue that lead the IDF to finding them), who were living passionate, literate, committed Jewish lives. And they were going to go on to raise a family to follow in their footsteps.

Today, there is a hole in the Jewish people. It is up to us to fill it- to learn Torah and to live Torah in their name and their memory. Indeed, last night over 30 people gathered for an evening of “Solidarity through Study” in memory of Naftali, Gilad and Eyal. But it cannot remain a one night program.

Rabbi Sacks writes, “The verdict of history is that cultures that worship death, die, while those that sanctify life, live on. That is why Judaism survives while the great empires that sought its destruction were themselves destroyed.” The survival of Judaism and the survival Jewish people depends on you and me. And it begins with “The Book of Books,” Torat Hayim.

Rabbi Alexander Davis